The taste of summertime

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Sacratomato Week runs July 23-29. For more information, visit

Is 2018 the year we carnivores will replace our meaty meals with veggies? Swap out chicken for eggplant parmesan, or opt for the black-bean burger from now on? Not likely. But in comes Sacratomato Week—seven days of Sutter District restaurants, bars and clubs celebrating one of the region’s agricultural gems.

“The thing about heirloom tomatoes is they have a sweet taste,” said Scott Lawrence, owner of Lawrence Farms. “I love that sweet taste.”

Lawrence has been growing tomatoes for 26 years at his Oroville farm. He began growing and selling heirloom tomatoes a decade ago, around the time he noticed higher demand. On a recent Wednesday at Cesar Chavez Plaza, he’d nearly sold out of heirlooms by noon.

His favorite way to eat an heirloom is pretty simple: Slice it, dress with balsamic and enjoy.

“Our tomatoes are also really steaky,” Lawrence’s 13-year-old son, Jabez, says. “You could just cut off the crusts … and just throw them on a grill.”

In its fifth year, Sacratomato Week spotlights the vegetable with food and drink specials. While the Sacratomato Festival won’t be held this year, raffles and other happenings are scheduled at the Saturday farmers’ market, B Street Theatre and Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park.

(If the word “veggie” offends here, please see the 1893 Nix v. Hedden Supreme Court decision.)

As Sacratomato Week approaches, chefs and bartenders are working on items that showcase the crop.

If there’s a fried sandwich you could feel only mildly guilty for chomping down, it’s chef Inocencio Cruz’s fried heirloom tomato sandwich at Ink Eats & Drinks. Cruz brings together breaded-and-fried heirloom tomatoes, a generous helping of fresh mozzarella, onion, lettuce and chipotle-basil mayo between two Hawaiian buns for a filling alternative to a fried chicken sandwich.

Vegetarians be warned—he sneaks a few slices of bacon in there.

Ink’s Sacratomato Week cocktail, the Basil Tov, is a gentler version of a Bloody Mary that won’t have you reaching for Tums after a few rounds. Bartender Amber Hickey created the cocktail made with basil-vodka, fresh lime, tomato juice and chili paste, with a salted-cumin rim that gives the drink a pop of spice.

If you’re heading to Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub for a concert, opt for an item off the venue’s revamped seasonal menu instead of eating out before the show. Chefs Alex Alvarez and Steven Hayashida developed the new menu, which will include a thin-crust heirloom tomato and basil pizza.

“To be honest, it’s easy when it’s heirlooms,” Alvarez said. “The anticipation has been really crazy. Because we are a known Farm-to-Fork capital, it’s important to use what’s in season.”